Do You Believe in Life After Marriage?
by Phil Costello
What I would like to talk about here is the idea of a sit-down with
your betrothed to articulate your respective expectations of each other
before actually getting married. I don’t mean ‘pre-nups’ - they are
something else to consider before getting married. I’m referring to a
pre-emptive ‘getting on the same page’ in terms of how we live our lives
on a daily basis.
The merits of this seem obvious, so much so that many
might see it as a given that you’re both on the same page and therefore
no discussion is necessary. This is especially so if you have been
living together already for some time. Getting on the same page before the wedding can help with smoother sailing down the line.
However, my experience is that, because being married
elevates a relationship to a new status, issues can and do arise that
didn’t appear to be there when you weren’t married.
After the Honeymoon
The fact is, these issues were there but many
relationships leading up to a marriage might be considered something of
an early ‘honeymoon’ in the larger context of a lifetime relationship.
There is the novelty of them for a start – ‘hey, this is fun, we’re
living together’ - and very often children haven’t yet entered the
equation. Also, it may be too early for some to be pooling their
finances, assets and incomes.
Consequently, potential issues of incompatibility in
these areas aren’t yet visible. After we get married, though, we start
to realise that what was acceptable has now become untenable and
tensions start to develop.
Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.
Finances: An obvious one. One person might
always have considered that, after getting married, sharing of all
finances, income and assets was a given. The other might not have shared
Division of labour: A common bone of
contention. Is there the expectation that all housework, including
cooking, is to be shared equally? If so, and it hasn’t been the case
already, this needs discussion.
Socialising: Many couples socialise together,
whether mostly or occasionally. It doesn’t really matter how we do it,
as long as it is mutually acceptable. The important part is to get it
out in the open early if one person isn’t happy with the current
socialising culture or has different expectations for married life.
Children: The obvious aspect to this is to
openly discuss whether, as a couple, you want children and how they are
to be looked after, i.e., who will stop work to look after them or will
childcare be required. There are more subtle areas to this as well that
may be overlooked: if one parent is working and the other providing
full-time care, what are the expectations around ‘time out’ from work
and childcare for both parents? As I describe a few of these potential
issues they seem obvious and the need for discussion tends to sell
itself. However, the other problem is our general disinclination to want
to ‘rock the boat’.
Communication: Rocking the Boat?
What I mean by this is that, when the relationship
appears to be going well with general harmony prevailing, it can be the
very pleasantness of this climate that can dissuade us from wanting to
‘ruin it’ by bringing up uncomfortable topics for discussion. Why spoil
it? The same approach to other areas of our lives, though, would be
clearly counter-productive. Would we really be content to stay in the
first job we ever had because we ‘didn’t want to spoil it’ by going for a
promotion? Similarly, are we really content to let a friend who irks us
with some aspect of their behaviour to continue doing so because
‘that’s just the way it is’?
Relationships have to be organic - it was Woody Allen
who said they are like sharks and have to keep moving to survive (he
then turned to Annie Hall and reflected, ‘I think we have a dead shark
on our hands’). Change is typically challenging for us to take in our
stride so this also contributes to our aversion to ‘rocking the boat’.
If nothing else, the mere act of raising topics for
discussion makes us better at doing the one thing that will give us our
best chance of creating a successful and enduring marriage: open